Your Honor, I'm Literally Just A Girl <3
Girl dressing — think bows, Mary Janes, scrunchies — is the internet's most prevalent fashion subculture. But where did it come from?
By Cami Fateh
We’ve all seen her. She listens to Mazzy Star and Fiona Apple, she owns the Dior lip oil in “Cherry," she drinks Diet Coke like it’s water, and she wears a pair of ballet slippers with her low-slung vintage Levi’s 501s. She scours Depop for anything adorned with a dainty satin bow, Etsy for a Tiffany Style Stained Glass Sconce Light Shade, eBay for vintage Ralph Lauren cable knits, and Vestiaire Collective for secondhand Prada SS99 mules.
She may post a video of objects in her room to the tune of “I’m just a girl” by No Doubt. “Oh, I'm just a girl, living in captivity... Oh, I'm just a girl, what's my destiny?” plays on 2.5x speed as she showcases the artful clutter created by her Yoshitomo Nara framed prints, Bella Freud pillowcase, various Diptyque candles, fresh flowers in a vintage vase, afghan coats (Charlotte Simone or Saks Potts), Onitsuka tiger sneakers, and curated bookshelf littered with sentimental knick-knacks and, most certainly, a copy of The Bell Jar. Although she knows better than to use the word “aesthetic” as an adjective, she may still call a Dasha Nekrasova-inspired fur hat “so aesthetic.”
While I am seasoned enough in the sporting match of curated internet content to know this girl doesn’t really exist, I can’t help but want to emulate her style. Her cool factor isn’t just marked by the caché of treasures coveted by internet culture — her delicate clothing and collection of objects projects an aura of innocence and youthful charm. She is cute, capricious, and most of all, she is not deliberately sexy.
With the term “girlhood” leading cultural expression to unexpected places (girl dinner? hot girl walks? girl math?), the female economy making headlines with the Eras tour and Greta Gerwig, and our phone screens dominated by young female content creators, it makes sense that we’re craving girly fashion now more than ever.
It’s easy to fall into the rhetorical rabbit-hole of wondering why we all want to be little girls: Are we expressing a deep-rooted desire for submission by purchasing Sandy Liang Mary Janes and Maryam Nassir Zadeh scrunchies? Are we healing our inner child? Or, a possibly more sinister thought than we could have ever imagined, is dressing “coquette” a medium for articulating our desire for adolescent thin-ness?
I think no one expresses the why better than Rayne Fisher-Quann, who writes, “Your existence as a type of girl has almost nothing to do with whether you actually read Joan Didion or wear Miu Miu, and everything to do with whether you want to be seen as the type of person who would.” Ultimately, by donning childlike attire, we are merely indulging in a harmless act of dress up. Women already get dressed with the knowledge that every element of their outfit will be under scrutiny, consciously or not, so I think they can be afforded the delight of assuming a fictional character.
The Spring/Summer 2024 collections of Sandy Liang, Molly Goddard, and Shushu/Tong represent unadulterated “girl clothes” with schoolgirl skirts and “bloquette-core” (which, according to TikTok, is now being taught as a prevailing fashion aesthetic at Central Saint Martins), and they are getting all the attention they deserve online. When creating her most recent collection, designer Sandy Liang was inspired by a particular photograph of Cecilia Lisbon in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, where she is wearing a baggy prom dress with a pair of old flip flips. Fans of Coppola’s directorial debut will recall that Mrs. Lisbon added extra fabric to the busts of her daughters’ prom dresses after begrudgingly allowing them on their first unsupervised excursion.
Nonetheless, the girls gleefully celebrated their taste of freedom, fantasizing relentlessly over their prom dates only to end up posing awkwardly with them amid stilted attempts at conversation. This ultra-specific strain of feminine growing pains was previously unique to Coppola’s oeuvre, until Sandy Liang managed to bottle and serve it (excuse the pun) in the form of pubescent boxy blazers, amateur-ballerina-pink silks, and comically floppy bows.
Courtesy of Vogue Runway
It’s near impossible to tell whether Sandy Liang’s Spring/Summer 2024 was created for the TikTok generation or by them. The bow detail that is Liang’s signature has become a hit on DIY TikTok, with girls sharing tips to recreate the look for less. Simultaneously, her own wedding pictures from the past summer have become a TikTok sensation, catalyzing a new wave of tablescapes with a girlish charm.
The virality of Sofia Richie’s wedding content has always rubbed me the wrong way, mainly because the “quiet luxury” look will always come across as contrived when recreated without a multi million-dollar budget that affords the Hotel du Cap and a veneer-adorned cast of characters. I’ll admit that this kind of aspirational content is fun, gossipy, and certainly here to stay. However, its popularity will always be based on how inaccessible this opulence is to the rest of us. Against the backdrop of an internet awash with budget-friendly The Row dupes and shortcuts to your first birkin, the viral appeal of Sandy Liang’s wedding is refreshing. The photographs of shell-shaped glasses, hand-tied pink bow ornaments, and pearls on a string tell the story of a fairytale wedding in its truest sense — one that could easily be conjured in the fanciful dreams of a little girl. Quiet luxury is a far cry from girl dressing, but the two could easily be grounded in similar nostalgias.
In “‘Girl’ trends and the repackaging of womanhood”, Rebecca Jennings argues that “‘Woman dinner’ is sad; the phrase evokes an image of a tired lady, having already fed her spouse and children, eating the last scraps of whatever was left over before shoving the plates in the dishwasher.
Nobody wants to eat “woman dinner.” However, “Girl dinner” is, crucially, fun.” While certain elements of dressing like a coquette-liang-mermaid-muse can be as inaccessible as some of Sofia Richie’s own wardrobe (see: Barrie + Sofia Coppola), the essence of this vibe thrives on artfulness, a fondness for the whimsical, and indulging in delights that would have enchanted our inner children. Go raid your nearest Michael’s, and then revel in tying satin bows to your glassware. Get crafty and adorn your walls with a collage of posters. Hit the thrift store and find a sheepskin coat to match your taste in music, and then, go make a TikTok about it.